How We Tested: What to Look for in a Great FFS Fish Finder for the Ice
Live, moving images have changed how anglers use fish-finding tech.
Now you can watch fish, studying how your technique, presentation, and lure affect their interest, enabling you to adjust your jigging in real time to better lure fish in for a strike.
Garmin, Lowrance, and Humminbird offer roughly equivalent image quality via powerful transducers that transmit ultra-high frequencies. These quickly oscillating sound waves carry more data than lower frequencies, allowing their black boxes to translate raw information into vivid, real-time, moving images.
The downside to this awesome tech is that high frequencies just don’t penetrate the water column very well, and that doesn’t change when you aim them horizontally, as FFS does.
In our testing, Garmin and Humminbird provided slightly better image quality than Lowrance, as some skipping and lagging was evident with the latter unit.
FFS manufacturers make some pretty boil claims about the range of their products.
These numbers may well be accurate under ideal circumstances, but in the real world, they’re not even close.
Expect roughly half of the stated number in usable range.
In our testing, the Garmin was the best of the three, followed closely by Lowrance and Humminbird, in that order.
Ease of operation
If there’s one thing that most anglers can agree about, it’s that the user interface on a fish finder needs to be simple, inuitive, and easy to master.
Garmin is the clear leader on this front, and their UI is the best by a mile.
Lowrance and Humminbird lag behind, and it’ll take careful attention to the user’s manual and slime practice on dry land to learn to use all the features on offer.
Frigid temperatures devour battery life like a hungry dog.
Each of these units comes with a typical battery that’s good for 6 to 10 hours, depending on your use and the ambient temp.
BUt keep in mind that none of these fish finders is rated to work below 5 F. If it’s really cold, you’ll need to be in shelter and keep your fish finder and battery warm.
Weight matters, and the Garmin is hefty.
Ideally, an FFS comes with a backpack that allows you to tote it out onto the ice and leave your hands free.
Fortunately, Garmin and Lowrance realize this.
Unfortunately, Humminbird doesn’t.
While you can save some money by choosing the Lowrance, the Garmin ECHOMAP UHD2 is the best of the bunch in terms of pure performance.
Live imaging like LiveScope requires ultra-high frequencies to provide the detail necessary for good image quality, but high frequencies can’t penetrate water very well. That means that there’s an unavoidable trade off here: you sacrifice range for great images.
SInce the real advantage of FFS is that it allows you to drill a test hole and look for fish at a distance, range matters, and Garmin provides the best performance by a margin of 20 percent or so. In the real-world, that’s a difference that matters.
Combine that with simple, intuitive controls and a nice screen and you have a winner.